If you want to reach a wealthy demographic that’s comfortable spending a decent amount of money on leisure activities, you could do worse than private pilots who fly their own airplanes. After all, how many people can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on recreation and travel, especially with constantly rising fuel costs?
But before you start reaching for the sky with your marketing campaign, here’s what you need to know about this high-flying population.
Man on the Move
To start, despite the economic impact of aviation in the U.S.—an estimated $247 million in 2004 and $1.25 billion once indirect effects are added in, according to the Air Transport Association—there are more than 590,000 active pilots, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which uses data from the Federal Aviation Administration; of those, 235,000 are private pilots, which is the preferred term for nonprofessionals, such as those who know how to fly a four-seater Cessna or kit plane.
Chris Dancy, media relations director for AOPA, says 94 percent of pilots are male. “That percentage has held for decades,” he says. “The airlines and groups like ours would love to see more women involved, but no one in the industry has been able to crack that barrier.” Starting at a young age, planes are considered boy toys, an association that persisted throughout most of the 20th century; with women now on the front lines of combat in the U.S. military, that perception of planes might change in future generations.
In terms of age, the bulk of the pilots fall in the 40 to 59 age bracket, a figure that Ben Sclair, publisher of General Aviation News, finds troubling. “It’s bad marketing on the part of the entire industry,” he says. “There’s a common misconception of how expensive and difficult it is to learn to fly. Yes, $8,000 to $10,000 is … a lot for some people, but there are over 3 million people of high net worth who could afford to learn.” Having available time for training might be another matter.